Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that the chorus has been an irreplaceable element of Greek drama although its role steadily diminished as the part of the actors has expanded through the years. The chorus consists of a group of characters, usually cast as a group of elders or young women and that they comment or interpret the events of the story and express an opinion to the audience. This paper will explore the role of the chorus in four of the most famous of Euripides plays – Alcestis, Medea, Electra, and the Bacchae – particularly in how they differ and the significance of such differences.
Alcestis is one of the earliest surviving plays penned by Euripides. The chorus played a significant role. It was instrumental in expressing Euripides’ sympathy for women. The storyline followed the events that started after King Admetus of Thessaly learns from the Fates, goddesses responsible for determining the life span of each individual, that his time has expired. But the king was allowed the opportunity to substitute anyone who will die in his place. It was his wife who agreed to take his place.
According to Jacqueline de Romilly (1985), the chorus is in a position to elicit the religious meaning of the action and to punctuate it with prayers at the same time. it is easily used to represent the group – citizenry or army – whose fate is tied to that of the actors. (p. 48) In Alcestis, this became true for Euripides. In the play, the chorus was given the role of announcing Alcestis’ future celebration in song and her coming worship as a heroine. She has already gained the status, the chorus claimed, of a Makaira daimon or a blessed spirit and that she will be addressed as potential but viewed as divine.
It was in this play wherein the chorus still took a prominent role. It delivered the play’s central message that of Alcestis’ usurpation of the male role of protecting the reputation of the house while Admetus was alienated from every social role normal for men.